Let’s look at that first part – that part about the Law being written in our mind. When we read the Bible, we’re taking it into our minds, aren’t we? We’re thinking about it as we read it. We read it. We think about it. If I’ll ever get to the point where I quote any scriptures today in the sermon, and you’re listening, and you’re thinking about it, you’re taking it into your mind. And you’ll remember that. So it’s being written in your mind. The more you read that, and the more you remember the Bible, the more of it that’s written in your mind, right? It just becomes a part of you.
So when God says He’s going to write it in our minds, it just simply means that God is going to teach us his word and His ways. It has to do with our intellect and our ability to understand things. It’s taking in knowledge about God. When we think about this aspect of what God is doing, it becomes really clear that we must teach our children the Bible. And we must do it in ways that are appropriate for their age and their development. You know, the old thing we talked about in the series on Spiritual Growth and Human Development , “Good luck teaching a four-year-old calculus.” They’re just not ready for it. And so there are things about the Bible they’re not ready for, so we have to teach it in age appropriate ways.
By the way, we have a series of presentations that I just mentioned that show how children at each age are able to learn about God – what they can learn. You can download that entire series from our Website at no charge.
Now this other issue about the Law being written in our hearts, that’s a completely different issue altogether. When the Law is in our hearts, we own it. It becomes us. It’s a part of us. It’s a deeply held part of us.
A number of years ago, I was working with a young girl – little girl, actually – who had been abused by her own father. One day, while I was talking to her in the course of counseling with her – she said, “I feel guilty.” You just can’t imagine what kind of buttons that pushed in me. I wanted to preach her a sermon right there! I wanted to say, “You feel guilty? You shouldn’t feel guilty. He should feel guilty. You’re the child. He is the adult. He’s supposed to take care of you. You’re the one whose supposed to trust and believe that you’re going to be taken care of. You don’t have anything to feel guilty about.” But I didn’t say that, because there was a psychologist who was helping me work with this girl. I would call him after each session and tell him, for five minutes, what had happened. And for five minutes, he would tell me what I should do next.
I’d already had enough talks with him to know that I wasn’t supposed to express my own opinions. So I told him this story, and I told him that I wanted to preach her a sermon, and he just laughed and said, “Well, Bill, I guess if anybody could preach her a sermon, it would be you! Ha! Ha! Ha!” Then he stopped laughing, and he said, “No sermons, no advice, no judgments, no moralizing, no instruction.” I said, “Walt, you just took my main things away from me!” I said, “What do I do?” And he said, “Every time she says that word guilty , ask her what’s that like, and how it feels, and where it comes from and what it means to her.” “What’s that going to do?” I said. He said, “You just watch.”
So that’s what I did over the course of the next few months. Every time that topic came up, we’d just kind of noodle it around, because she didn’t know a lot of that. But it forced her to think about that. And I think, also, she understood that because every time she said that word, I’d get really interested in that. She understood that that was something of importance, I think – even though I never told her that.
So, after several months of that, one day, at the beginning of a session, I asked her, “How are you today?” And she said, “I’m feeling really good.” And I said, “Oh, why is that?” She said, “Because I’m tired of feeling guilty for something I didn’t do.” Now that isn’t something that I told her she should believe. That’s something that she came to herself. It’s her.
So I excitedly called Walt and I told him what happened. I said, “That’s amazing! How did that happen?” And he said, “Well; that’s what psychotherapy’s all about. It’s about helping people understand what they should do so that it’s not imposed on them, but it’s something that comes from within them. It’s theirs.” He said, “If you had preached her that sermon, you would have actually impeded her progress.” I said, “How is that?” He said, “Well, because she’s a child and she lives in a world of emotions. Her emotions – her feelings – are more real to her than the stuff that she thinks. She’s been feeling since she was an infant, but this ability to think is a relatively new thing for her. So she trusts her feelings a lot more than she trusts her intellect. Your intellect is a lot more developed than hers. There’s no way that she could argue with you as you start to explain to her why she shouldn’t feel guilty. But she still believes she should! So she’s going to hang on to that more tightly. And that’s exactly what you don’t want her to do.” So I learned a good lesson about advice, and trying to cram things down people’s throats, and getting them to do the right thing and that sort of thing right there.
That belief that she didn’t need to feel guilty for something she didn’t do was hers. In fact, Walt made the statement, “Now that’s hers, not yours.” So when God talks about writing the Law in our hearts, that’s what He’s doing with us. He’s making the Law ours .
I’m a Sabbath keeper. It’s what I do. It’s not just what I do. It’s how I think. It’s mine. It happened slowly over time, but it’s in there. It’s in my heart. It’s in yours too. Doesn’t mean that we do it perfectly, but we believe it. It’s something that nobody can take away from us now.
Let’s turn to Psalm 119 and look at a few verses here. Here’s a man – David – in the Old Testament, who had the Law written in his heart. He said,
Psa. 119:24 – Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.
V-35 – Make me walk in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.
V-40 – Behold, I long for your precepts. Revive me in your righteousness. “I long for your precepts.”
V-47 – And I will delight myself in your commandments, which I love. Love is something you do in your heart, right?
So that’s a picture out of the Bible of what God is talking about when He’s talking about writing the Law in our hearts. We love it. We long for it. We ask God to make us to walk in it. We delight in it. We look at the Law and the Word of God as something to guide us. It’s our counselor. It’s something good for us, not something bad.
So how does God do that? How does He get that in there – into our heart? I was reading the Life Application Bible Commentary on Hebrews 8 and verse 10, where Paul quoted Jeremiah 31. They said, “The Holy Spirit gives us the desire to obey God.” Now, we’d all agree on that, wouldn’t we? That’s obvious. Of course, my mind always takes that a step further. I’m never satisfied until I can see more of the picture. And so I always ask, “How exactly does that happen?” Is it the funnel thing? Where He puts it in and pours it in? No.
It’s an amazing thing – what happens when we have to speak to God’s people. The night before I was to give this sermon the first time, I was thrashing around with this topic. And I knew that I needed a good example to explain how it happens – how the Holy Spirit causes us to want to obey God. I got an email from a teenager that I met in my travels. I was talking with her on the telephone, because in the email she sent me, she indicated there was a problem. So I called her up. She had concerns about her relationship with the opposite sex. She told me that when she was younger than she is now, she was going with this boy, and she was very involved with him emotionally. So that’s a heart thing, right? He was in her heart. Because they were so immature, there was always a lot of drama in their relationship. Her boyfriend was extremely emotional and self-centered, so their relationship was really rocky. They argued a lot. There were a lot of misunderstandings. Finally, they broke up. And she suffered a broken heart.
After that her mother explained to her, “That is why God tells us ‘to guard our hearts and not let love awaken before its time.’” That’s a quote from the Song of Solomon. She said, “When she told me that I knew that was true, but then I met another boy and I started going with him . And we broke up. And I had another big wound in my heart.” She said, “I knew better, so why did I do that, Mr. Jacobs?”
Well, I told her about a friend of mine, who was a dedicated sportsman. He was at a shooting range one day and he thought he would practice shooting his big .44 magnum pistol in the prone position. So he got down on his belly. He put his arms out in front of him with his pistol. He said he had the butt of the pistol – handle – on the ground. And he shot this thing and this huge shock wave rolled over him and nearly knocked him unconscious. His ears were ringing. His head was pounding. He saw stars. He’s rolling around on the ground in agony. And after he cleared his head, he wondered what in the world had happened. He didn’t know that would happen. He’d never heard of that happening – no idea! What was that anyway? Why did that happen? He was so curious, he said, “I tried it again!”
And after I told her this story, she laughed and she said, “Exactly! That’s just what I did. I knew what was going to happen, but I did it anyway! Why did I do such a stupid thing?!” And I said, “That would be for you to figure out. That’s between you and God. He’s working with you and He’s teaching you something that you need to know. But,” I said, “here are some things for you to think about.” See, I’m not giving advice. I’m just laying information out there for her to think about it. I’m not trying to pour anything in her head. I’m just putting it out there and she can nibble around at it and she can do what she wants with it.
I said, “There are two reasons people are disobedient.” That’s what we’re talking about here, isn’t it? She knew better and she did it anyway. People are sometimes rebellious. They’re rebellious because their relationship with God is weak. They don’t really care what He thinks, maybe. They just do what they want. You know, we want our way no matter what. We don’t care what God thinks about it.
The other reason people are disobedient is that they’re skeptical. You know, “I wonder what would happen if I tried it again?” Or, despite what God tells us about our own weakness, we say, “I can handle it.” We’re skeptical about God’s ability to judge us in our strength or weakness. Or we overestimate our own strength and underestimate our own weakness. And we’re just not quite sure God has us figured out well enough to give us that kind of advice. Or we think we’re smart enough to beat the rules. We’re skeptical about God’s intelligence to tell us what to do. Or we think we’re wise enough to navigate through dangerous territory without getting hurt despite God’s warnings to the contrary. We’re skeptical of His warnings.
So she found herself in that second category, I believe. Now, I didn’t say what I’m going to talk about next to the young lady, because for our purpose – I mean, it doesn’t apply for her – but for our purposes, I want to tell you the two reasons for obedience , as well. There are always two reasons why people obey.
One is fear. The Pharisees obeyed the Law out of fear, didn’t they? They were afraid that if they broke the Law they would go back into captivity, and they weren’t about to let God do that to them again. So they built a whole big fence of rules around the Law so that you could never even get close enough to it to break it. That was the plan. And the Law was something that was imposed on them from the outside. It was a restriction. The laws that they built to protect the Law were external rules and never went into their hearts, but was just something that was outside of them – that they always had to deal with and comply with, and was a big restriction and a burden to them.
Now Paul was a Pharisee. And he said that regarding the Law, he was blameless – never broke it in the letter all his whole life – while he was a Pharisee. So it was fairly effective at causing people to obey the Law, I guess. Now maybe not everybody was as good at it as he was, but he was pretty rigid about the way he did things and pretty enthusiastic about everything he did. But they had all these sacrifices. And there was this religious censure – a lot of social stigma applied to people that didn’t keep the Law. There were banishments and penalties, sacrifices and things like that. They were afraid of the penalties. They were afraid of the censures socially. So these people never learned to trust or love God. They just functioned in this system where there was this thing they had to do. All that did, really, was cause them to become self-righteous, because they were proud of the fact that they could suffer for God and keep His Law, which was so restrictive. You know, “I thank you, God, that I’m not like other people who do this and that and the other, while I do….” So they saw this Law as a gigantic restriction that they were willing to live with. It wasn’t something in their heart, but just a set of rules.
I think, in the Churches of God, we have been a lot like that in a lot of ways. We look down our noses because we know a few important things in the Law, while we fail to internalize the most important values of God, such as not looking down our noses at others who might not know as much as we do about some thing. When we teach the Law as a set of rules that we have to comply with to our children, all that does is make them want to resist it. It’s just something that is being pushed on us – like me telling that girl, “You shouldn’t feel guilty.” And she’s going to say, “Oh, I shouldn’t? Well, I certainly seem to.” That’s what’s going to go on inside. And when somebody says, “Well, you should obey the Law,” and it’s pushed on us, then it’s something we have to comply with, then it just makes people want to resist. It’s just how we are. God knows that. But when we approach our children with the fact that the Law is guide and lamp that shows us how to avoid pain and a way to receive blessings, then they’re much more receptive to it when they get older.
You know, this young girl, was, while I was helping her process her experience, literally taking the Law into her heart. She had been hurt twice and she’s starting to understand, “Oh! Oh, if I had just done what God said, then I wouldn’t have suffered those things.” It wasn’t anything that I told her. It was her experience that was helping her to learn that lesson. And I wasn’t giving advice or acting like an authority, but I was just acting like a spiritual mentor to her – helping her to develop her own understanding of the Law and what it does in her life. And I was telling her stories, and making her laugh, and asking her questions and providing food for thought for her in inviting her to think about things in a way that she hadn’t before, and then to formulate her own opinion and make it hers .
The second reason that people obey God – or obey period – parents, God, whatever – is out of trust. And when we obey out of trust, that’s when the Law goes into our heart. We know that God gave it to us as a guide for our lives, and as a way to draw close to Him, and we trust that He loves us and that His Law works for us – that it’s good for us. And so we use the Law to live our life. And it becomes a part of us that way. It goes all the way into our heart. It becomes our way as well as God’s way. We love it. We rely on it. And we respond to it, because we believe that God gave it to us as a blessing – something good for us. The point is, that this business of writing the Law in our hearts is an issue between us and God alone. It’s not that somebody else can tell it to us, or make us, but that it comes from our own personal relationship with God and our relationship and experience with breaking and keeping the Law of God, and what happens to us as a result of both of those things. He lays the rules out for us and we get to decide whether we’re going to live by it or not, don’t we? And it’s the deciding that makes it go in. When He lays it out for us and we learn the lessons we need to learn, we take the Law into our heart.
I was thinking about my young friend there. She’s getting it! She’s understanding what she did that caused herself to be hurt and what she should have done to avoid the problem. She knows to be careful in love now. She’s learned how to relate to guys in a more careful way. We had quite a discussion about how she deals with the young men in life now. She’s not a little kid anymore. She’s eighteen, I believe – out of high school – and has her own job. She’s learning what to do. There’s a guy that she likes in her community who also goes to church. And she was detailing for me their relationship and how they have both agreed that they’re just not going to be anything more than friends right now, because they aren’t ready to be married. Wow! It went in there, didn’t it? She got it! She knows God has laid out a plan for her good and she’s taken that into herself and made it a part of her. Her experience with disobedience has helped her understand in a very personal way what the Law is for.
Some people might think that this isn’t a very important part of life – just puppy love and all that – but I really think differently about that. Over the years, one area where we resist God the most is in the area of romantic and sexual relationships. And so she’s learning to obey God in one of the most difficult areas of all while she’s very young. And she’s acting more converted than a lot of adults I know, actually. Pretty amazing!
Let’s ask the question, then, what’s our part in all this and what is it that we can do? What’s our part of the process? Let’s go to James 1 and verse 21.
Jm. 1:21 – It says here, Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. We need to receive the implanted word – that helps us to know what the Word says – when we receive it, understand it – and then we need to do that with meekness . Meekness has to be a part of this. What is that? The Greek word is prautes . In scripture – and here’s what Lonita says about it – I love the definitions from the Lonita Lexicon – “In it’s use in scripture, it consists not in a person’s outward behavior only….” So if you think meekness is something that’s exhibited toward other people, that’s not all there is to it. “…nor yet in his relations to his fellow man. Rather, it is an inwrought grace of the soul and exercises of it are first and chiefly toward God. It is that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore, without disputing or resisting.” So she’s not resisting anymore, is she, in that area of her life. She has become meek . She wasn’t very meek in the beginning. She thought she knew better than God, and so she just went ahead and did it anyway. And then she did it again! But she’s getting meek now. She believes that God’s dealings with her are good . And so, why would you resist something that’s good for you? She understands that God knows better than she does, and that He’s on her side, and He’s showing her how to find a mate. And that’s meekness in a very important part of life. So, she’s trusting God to take care of her romantic life and becoming converted and committed to God and His way. That’s so inspiring to see that! Sometimes I worry about the church and how so many of us are old. But, you know, the young ones that I meet, it just seems to me that they’re so far ahead of what I was at that age!
II Corinthians 10:3. Let’s look at that scripture.
II Cor. 10:3 – For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God, for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
So we all have pockets of our life where we don’t let God guide us. There are sort of those areas that are hands-off to God. We’re going to do what we want no matter what. And that’s what Paul is talking about. And, usually, these are the areas that are most important to us – the most deeply held. And so this young girl has entrusted to God one really important part of her young life.
Over the years I’ve noticed one of the major aspects of life that people tend to keep God out of is that choice of a mate. They want to do that. And they don’t want to let Him get involved in it. So, this very young girl has already started to surrender the most sensitive part of her life to God. And I tell you, I’m really impressed by that. She’s learning to trust Him. And He’s writing His Law in her heart.
I want to talk some more now, for just a little while, about helping the young people to have God’s Law written in their hearts – how we can aid in that, instead of being so directive, and bossing them around, and telling them how it’s got to be and all of that. I mean, there’s a place for that, too, but there’s some other things that need to happen as well.
An elder called me one day a number of years ago – not too many, but maybe five – and he was planning on doing a Bible study to warn the kids off all these demonic TV shows. I think they’ve kind of run their course pretty much, if I’m right. I don’t keep up with it. But he seemed to think that was a big deal. And I asked him how he arrived at that choice of a topic. He said, “Well, they’re all over the air waves and our kids need to know about them.” And I said, “Have you heard any of the kids talking about it?” He said, “Well, no, but they’re all over the place. They can’t help but see them.” So that was kind of my first clue that here’s the topic that he’s invested himself in and it may not even really be a problem. I mean, he hasn’t done any research to find out if it is. He just wants to talk about that, because he thinks he knows what needs to be talked about. I’ve been guilty of that, too. I’m not really putting him down. But I needed to know that he was the one driving the issue, not some of the kids in his congregation. I think, if it isn’t a problem, and he’s going to try to impose his ideas on them, what’s likely to happen is that they’ll become aware of the programming because of his bringing it to their attention. Then they will become curious about it and go watch some of it. So the net result of that approach is going to cause more kids to watch it than if he had just done nothing – if , in fact, it wasn’t a problem in the area. I don’t really know for sure.
But it seemed to me that he wasn’t going to be deterred, so I suggested that he tape fifteen minutes of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer , which the TV guide said was the best done program of that sort – in fact, one of the best programs on television, as far as the way it was produced, and the writing and all that stuff. Kind of shocking, actually, to think about it. So I suggested that he do that and then show it to them. Then ask them, as a group, to make a list of all the bad things that they saw and all the good things. And he said, “What in the world good would that do?” I could tell he was already offended. And I said, “Well, Paul tells us, in Hebrews, that the only way to become spiritually mature is exercise our senses to discern good from evil. So why don’t you teach them how to do that?” You know, life’s always a mix of good and bad. And the trick is to be able to tell the difference. The devil never serves up a plate of all bad. It’s always a mix of good and bad. And to be able to tell the difference is what makes a person spiritually mature.
Well, he got off the phone as fast as he could, and I’m pretty sure he never did what I suggested, but I decided that I would try an experiment and I did that. In fact, I did it at a big conference with whole bunch of young adults present. You know, it was an amazing thing that happened. They came up with all the bad things and they couldn’t think of a single good thing about that program. They came up with the violence, the demons, the witches, the sorcery. One of the girls mentioned the immodest clothing that the girls on the program wore. And I said, “Well, what about the good stuff?” And there was just stone silence. And I said, “Well, did she have a good relationship with her mother?” “Yeah, yeah, she did.” “Well, did she have a really good mentor in school?” “Yeah, yeah, he was a real nice guy – very supportive.” “And did she have loyal and supportive friends in the program?” “Yeah, she did that.” “And where did she get the strength to fight Satan?” “Oh…okay, so there were good things,” they said. And then this whole group of people – probably seventy-five of them in this room, and they had them divided up into buzz groups – they shifted into a discussion about whether the show was worth watching. And they, pretty much, came to the conclusion that it was no big deal, and before the evening was over, these groups that were supposed to be discussing this program were talking about other things. They moved on. See, they came to that conclusion themselves . It wasn’t me standing up there preaching to them about how bad this show was – never, never, never watch it, because you’ll become demon possessed if you do. They just decided it wasn’t even worth talking about right there. And they started talking about things that were more interesting and important to them. Issue over. Let’s move on.
So they developed a group value in those little groups that they had. And it went in. It was in their heart. They decided and they all subscribed to it. Now what prevented that other fellow from doing that? Well, he, first of all, thought that he knew better than they did. They would never come up with the right answer. He was the one that owned that. He was going to have to teach it to them. They already knew it! He just didn’t have the faith to believe the Holy Spirit would work with them, but it did.
I’ve seen this over and over again. If given support and the right questions, our kids will come up with the right answers. And they will take those answers into their hearts. And it will become theirs as well as ours.
I went to visit an independent Church of God some time ago, and when I returned home I found the following email that actually got there quicker than my plane did. It said, “I had a really great time this past weekend. I really enjoyed the discussions we had. They made me look at my life differently. I want to be closer to the church. And I want to thank you for coming to our church and talking with the teens and young adults. I can’t wait to go to another activity. And I’d also be glad to help if you ever need help planning an activity. Thanks again.” So that’s from a sixteen-year-old.
As a result of the discussions we had in her church, she looked at life differently. I didn’t tell her that she should. She figured that out for herself. It was her own insight. What she wanted to do differently was to be closer to the people in her church and her youth group. And that’s something that’s hers. It’s not something that I told her needed to do. She just sat and listened to all her friends talk about the problems they have in the group, and the good things they have in their group, and what they want to do with their lives. And she came up with this insight about how she needed to be closer to them and to the church. Isn’t that interesting how that works. If I had stood up there and I had said, “You people need to be closer to your church,” what do you think would have happened? That’s right.
A second email also beat me home as well. This one came from a young girl. She had listened carefully to the sermon I gave, and she said that she listened to me describe the relationship I have with the only teenager we have in our congregation, and she found herself longing for a relationship like that. I wrote her back, and I told her that I would be honored to be a spiritual mentor to her if it would help. She mentioned some problems she was dealing with. Since then we’ve passed a few emails and a couple of phone calls. I’ve lent an ear. She talks about her spiritual concerns. I think it helps her that I’m not close to any of the people she knows. I’m kind of safe to talk to. She’s expressed several times that its so helpful to be able to talk about the things that concern her. Of course, when we see each other at the Feast, we’re going to be really encouraged and happy, and undoubtedly, there will be some time to talk face to face about some of the things that are important to her, and have fun together for awhile. I think that encapsulates my belief in how the Holy Spirit works – how it makes us want to obey God. I believe that that happens from one person to another – from one who has the Spirit to one who is developing that relationship with God – from one heart to another.
I think about how that works in a home, where you have loving parents, and it’s transmitted from the heart of the person who has the Law written in their hearts to the one who’s having it written in their heart. I think it works in the ministry with youth. And I think it works with the people in the congregation with young people. I think it’s transmitted from person to person. God does not use magic. He doesn’t have magic wands. We are called to relate to each other as a body for that reason – to communicate and pass on those things to those who are younger.
Well, that kind of brings us back to where we started – talking about how God’s Word is written in our hearts. And He does it through the process of learning to live by God’s Word and by being encouraged and supported by those who already have the Word written in their hearts.